Sleep did not come easily for any of Steuart’s men on the slopes of Culp’s Hill. At 1:00 a.m. “we were awakened…by the advance of a column of Yankees, but a volley from our line caused them to break and run” wrote a soldier off the 1st Maryland. A few hours later, another soldier from Maryland recorded, “About 5 a.m. firing commenced” and the firefight became “hot work and loss pretty heavy” for both sides. Highlighting the confusion of when the muskets began firing again, accounts suggest the fighting began as early as 3:30 a.m. At whatever time, the killing began early on July 3, 1863.
Union XII Corps commander Major General Henry Slocum orders for the morning were blunt, “Drive them out at daylight” in reference to the Confederates still occupying Culp’s Hill. One of his division commanders straightforwardly admitted that this particular order was “more easily made than executed.” Brigadier General John Geary would be responsible for driving out Steuart’s command on the left flank of the Confederate position. The task, as Williams’s statement accurately covered, would be a tough assignment. The Confederates enjoyed the protection of a stone wall, the captured Union earthworks, and Spangler’s Spring which created a marsh of fields the blue-coated soldiers would have to traverse in their advance.
As the Union soldiers advanced, Confederates of the 1st Maryland and 3rd North Carolina were using the cover afforded them; trading places so both units could enjoy the protection of the breastworks captured the night before. Meanwhile the unit that was currently not enjoying this protection found cover amidst the boulders dotting the hillside. Steuart’s Brigade made some minor changes to their line—transferring the majority of the 1st North Carolina from the right to left of the brigade line. With some down time before the firing heated up again a few of the commands took this time to send runners back to replenish ammunition.
The Confederates though were not going to contend themselves with just waiting for the Federal assault to strike home. At 10:00 a.m. orders came down from Major General Edward Johnson for Brigadier General George “Maryland” Steuart. The directive was simple; attack. Yet, as Williams would write about Slocum’s order, Steuart’s position was even worse and like Major General John Bell Hood the previous day, Steuart lodged a complaint of protest for in reference to the order. Even though Steuart could see any assault was pointless he was old Army and West Point trained and that taught him one thing, orders were to be obeyed until countermanded.
Steuart sent his staff to relay the order to attack. Major W.W. Goldsborough, like Steuart when he received the order from Johnson, spoke of his opposition. He would later write that “I divined the object of the move instantly…I consider it murder, and therefore would take my men in under protest.” The staff officer in charge of passing the order to Goldsborough sympathized with the Marylander stating that Steuart was of the same inclination, however, “the order comes from one higher than he.” The assault would go on.
As the brigade shook out its line, the order of battle from right to left was the 3rd North Carolina, 1st Maryland, 10th, 23rd, and 37th Virginia regiments, and on the left flank the 1st North Carolina. As these veterans prepared for the attack, Steuart could be seen “calmly watching the troops” and when all was ready he instructed “fix bayonets.” Goldsborough remembered “the sword of the Gnl. is raised on high! Forward, double quick!” Randolph McKim, an aide to Steuart, would remember the general’s voice shouting “Charge, bayonets!” and the brigade, on orders, leapt over the breastworks. Whatever his words were, the attack was on. Starting with over 2,100 soldiers the day before, only approximately 900 men followed Steuart on the 3rd.
Steuart, upon orders, swung the brigade in a pivot on the 3rd North Carolina and came at the Union lines in a clockwise fashion. As they did they approached Pardee Field. Across from there were units from the Union XII Corps, Geary’s Division. The impetus of the charge melted away halfway across this field as devastating fire from the Union lines decimated Steuart’s ranks. Braver souls followed Lieutenant Colonel S.T. Walton of the 23rd Virginia, who wrote simply “we were exposed to a terrible fire and forced to retire.”
An account from the Union lines, a soldier in the 147th Pennsylvania vividly described Steuart’s attack:
“Down the opposite slope they came in beautiful alignment, their officers gallantly leading—now up the hillside in our front, in solid column, as if by sheer force of weight to bear us down. There was no retreat for the poor fellows in the front ranks who, with blanched faces, came up to be mowed down by companies.”
In the Confederate lines, Goldsborough would remember “the contempt on the faces of the men” of the Marylanders on the left of their battalion line seeing comrades in the Virginia regiments refusing to advance further. Possibly a little state bias played into this assessment.
The assault was doomed from the start because of the inferiority of numbers in Steuart’s command against the combined numbers of two Union brigades, those of Colonel Charles Candy and Brigadier General Thomas Kane. All organization dissipated as survivors, like Walton’s description above, fled rearward or not wanting to risk the gauntlet of fire again, surrendered.
Steuart, seeing the destruction of his beloved brigade, including the 1st Maryland who hailed from his home state, was distraught. As his men reformed behind some defensive works to fend off the anticipated Union counterattack, Steuart could be seen and heard walking back and forth, exclaiming “My poor boys, my poor boys.” Accurately summing up the advance, a soldier from the 3rd North Carolina would later write “that last…charge was a cruel thing for the Third.” Not many surviving Confederates, including Steuart, would have disagreed.
This was the last advance of Steuart’s Brigade during the battle and the rest of the day was spent holding their defensive line, the only further action was the repulse of Union skirmishers that were advanced to determine the strength of the enemy still in their front.
After seventeen hours of combat and duty on the front line, Steuart’s men were recalled sometime around midnight. Along with the rest of the Second Corps they marched toward Seminary Ridge, the first stop on the long, dispiriting retreat back to Virginia. For the Marylanders, including Steuart, this would not be how they had envisioned returning to their native state.
If Steuart would have stopped and looked on as his brigade made the move from Culp’s Hill to Seminary Ridge and counted the number of men still in the ranks, every third soldier would be missing. The attacks on July 2nd and July 3rd, had cost the Marylander 769 casualties. In the 1st Maryland Battalion the attrition rate was just under 50%. Other units suffered accordingly.
In his official report, Steuart would give credit to the entire brigade, writing that it “affords me the greatest pleasure to say…conducted themselves most gallantly, and bore the fatigue and privations…in a soldierly manner.”
A mere thirty minutes after Johnson’s Division stepped off on the charge that Steuart protested, word reached Ewell that Lieutenant General James Longstreet’s First Corps would not as initially planned that morning. Instead of a coordinated assault, Johnson would be attacking alone. Thousands would lose their life and/or a limb because of this tardy dispatch, including the abovementioned 769 from Steuart’s Brigade.
Ironic, thirty minutes and 500 yards could have changed so much.
The following sources were used in both parts of the series:
Official Records War of the Rebellion
Driver, Robert, J. “First and Second Maryland Infantry, C.S.A.”
Goldsborough, W.W. “The Maryland Line in the Confederate Army, 1861-1865”
Gottfried, Bradley, M. “Brigades of Gettysburg”
McKim, Randolph, H. “A Soldier’s Recollections”
Pfanz, Harry W. “Gettysburg, Culp’s Hill and Cemetery Hill”